Journalist | Writer | Analyst
7 May 2009
Obama administration wants India to sign NPT
New Delhi: In a foretaste of the changing nuclear atmospherics emanating from Washington, a senior American envoy told an international conference on Tuesday that getting India to sign the non-proliferation treaty (NPT) “remains a fundamental objective of the United States.”
Signing the NPT would be tantamount to India giving up its nuclear weapons, a goal that Washington has not seriously pressed for nearly a decade.
Though the Bush administration didn’t explicitly abandon universal adherence to the treaty as an objective, the demand was never made that India sign the NPT, at least not after the landmark July 2005 Indo-U.S. nuclear agreement. Just prior to that, at the May 2005 Review Conference (RevCon) of state parties to the NPT, the U.S. said it “hope[d] countries still outside [the NPT] will join the Treaty, which they can do only as non-nuclear weapon states” but stopped short of naming any countries.
On May 5, however, Assistant Secretary of State for verification, compliance and implementation, Rose Gottemoeller, went full tilt in her prepared statement for the NPT prepcom for the 2010 RevCon, not just naming India but equating its status with Pakistan, Israel and North Korea. The fact that this was done without any reference to, or defence of, the India exception that Washington sought and achieved at the International Atomic Energy Agency and Nuclear Suppliers Group last year has raised eyebrows in New Delhi.
The central principle embodied in the July 2005 agreement was that India would indefinitely maintain unsafeguarded, non-civilian nuclear facilities.
Equally galling for New Delhi was the South Asian tilt Ms. Gottemoeller gave to the proposed Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (FMCT). Such a treaty, she said, could help destabilising arms races in regions such as South Asia. India does not accept this regional linkage, preferring to see an international agreement banning the production of nuclear weapon-making material as a step in the direction of universal disarmament.
By way of contrast, the French statement at the same conference, which also spoke of universality, at least acknowledged the reality that India was abiding by non-proliferation norms. “Until [universal adherence] is completed, we must get now, through dialogue, India, Israel and Pakistan to come as close as possible to the international standards for non-proliferation and export control,” its ambassador said, adding, “Progress has been made in this direction, especially by India, but much effort remains to be done.”
In fairness to the Obama administration, the U.S. statement to the 2007 NPT prepcom also said it was important to reaffirm the importance of achieving universality of the NPT. But this theme did not figure anywhere in the American stand at the prepcom last year.
Taking President Barack Obama’s recent remarks in Prague on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty one step further, the U.S. envoy said that not only will American ratification be immediately and aggressively pursued but Washington will also launch a diplomatic effort to bring on board the other states whose ratifications are required for the treaty to enter into force.
India is among the handful of countries whose ratification is needed. The others include Pakistan, China and Iran.
Though the idea of India signing the NPT is absurd, Indian officials say it would not be wise to dismiss the latest American statement out of hand. Hundred days into the Obama administration, the absence of any public defence of the Indo-U.S. nuclear deal at an international forum suggests a lower level of commitment to the agreement than the Bush administration displayed. “The question is how does Mr. Obama come at India”, a senior official told The Hindu. “If he is going to look at India through the NPT-non NPT prism, then there is a problem”.
What also worries the Indian side is the impact the new U.S. attitude will have on other countries. “When the Americans start saying something, you can expect the international chorus to begin”, the official said.
Though the heavy lifting on the nuclear deal has already been done, some loose ends still remain for India to deal with. The NSG, for example, is still considering a total ban on the sale of enrichment and reprocessing equipment for non-NPT signatories, something the exemption last year did not prohibit.
On Monday, the NSG troika of Germany, Hungary and South Africa will hold consultations with Indian officials in New Delhi, the first such meeting since the 45-nation cartel decided to allow nuclear commerce with India last September.